Thompson’s charge dampened at Knockhill.

Thompson’s charge dampened at Knockhill.

Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship rookie Bobby Thompson endured a nightmarish maiden weekend at the spectacular but sodden Knockhill circuit in Fife at rounds 22, 23 and 24 of the UK’s highest profile domestic race series, leaving the 1.24-mile track just north of Edinburgh without adding to his points tally.

Fresh from a seasons-best seventh place finish at the Rockingham Motor Speedway, the 22 year-old Hornchurch based driver arrived at one of the UK’s most scenic and unique circuits in a buoyant mood, despite the fact that the undulating layout of the only non-English track on the calendar hasn’t traditionally suited the VW CC he pilots.

“My first trip to Knockhill was certainly a memorable one, even if it was for all the wrong reasons,” reflected Thompson, whose sole classified finish of the weekend aboard his #19 Team HARD with Trade Price Cars VW CC was a 20th place effort in the third and final race of the weekend. “The track itself is awesome, but it is just a pity that we only managed a handful of laps when it was dry. I was still pretty confident on race morning when we saw that all the races were going to be wet, but missing race one was just a killer and we never recovered from that.”

The eighth race weekend of the BTCC’s  record-breaking 60th anniversary season began well enough for the 2017 VW Cup Series Champion, who was comfortably inside the top ten during the opening half of the first of two free practice sessions when a slight error resulted in the BRDC Rising Star suffering his first off track excursion of the season.

“I just overcooked it slightly on my seventh flying lap going through turn one and spun,” recalled Thompson. “The car felt so good and I was just attacking a bit too much a bit too soon. The problem was that I hit a ditch, which ripped the front splitter off and caused a bit of damage which meant I missed the whole of second practice.”

Heading in to qualifying with half a dozen laps under his belt was hardly ideal but with the ITV4 on board cameras now installed worse was to come for when the signal was given to start the critical 30-minute timed session, Thompson left the pits completely unaware that an oil line was loose and that the distinctive #19 GKR Ltd machine was doing its best impression of the Exxon Valdez. Half way around his out-lap and with cars skating off the road behind him, smoke billowing in to the cockpit was Thompson’s first warning, which came too late for the engine, triggering a long, and expensive repair job on Saturday night as a new power unit from Swindon was installed.

“The team signalled for me to go out and do our usual one lap and then pit to cross over the tyres and as I came out of the second corner I said to my engineer that the rear end felt a bit loose but apart from that everything seemed fine until I got to Clark’s corner and smoke started appearing in the cockpit. I pulled off as soon as I could and then I realised that the rear end felt loose because I had oil over my tyres.”

With no time set in qualifying Thompson was face with starting the first of three 24 lap races from 31st and last on the grid but when Sunday dawned shrouded in grey cloud and seemingly incessant rain, the well-known wet weather expert still felt at least one, possibly two points scoring finishes were obtainable. However, those hopes were extinguished the moment he pulled onto his grid slot and the BTCC grid officials spotted a trail of oil coming out from the underside of the #19.

“It is tough to summarise a race that basically didn’t happen,” said Thompson, who recorded his second DNS of the year and now faced starting race two from 31st and last on the grid as well. “We got the car back to the garage and the engine builders from Swindon checked to make sure it still had all its oil, which it did. It was simply a case of some of yesterday’s oil that went into the sills under the car started leaking out as the car warmed up. This was more frustrating than yesterday as we knew that nothing was wrong with the car and that basically killed our weekend but I understand what the officials were saying and you can’t have a car that is leaking oil going out on track, especially in conditions like we had.”

With the rain intensifying and the #19 machine now sporting a freshly valeted underside, Thompson made a good start to race two, passing several cars until an early race safety car period triggered the end of his challenge when the driver directly behind him failed to slow down for the safety car boards, giving Thompson’s car a whack to the rear that forced Thompson into the pits for repair the damage.

“I’ve always said that I love racing in the rain but race two was the worst conditions I’ve ever experienced,” added Thompson, who returned to the track three laps down but was classified as a non-finisher in 24th place when a red flag brought about an early conclusion to proceedings. “Being at the back meant I couldn’t see a thing but I picked up a couple of places and was moving forwards. Obviously someone behind me misjudged their braking in the spray and gave me a whack which meant I had to pit and lost three laps.

“But I knew that others would have problems and so we went back out as we only did seven laps yesterday and none in race one and even with no time to adjust the set-up our lap times were in the top 15 and a 12th row starting slot is much better than a 16th row starting slot, especially in these conditions.”

Even though the rain was beginning to abate ahead of the third and final race of the weekend, Thompson admitted to making a cautious start just to avoid incurring any potential damage and ended the first lap in 29th position. But with the ability to actually race for the first time all weekend Thompson quickly began picking off drivers one at a time despite the lack of overtaking opportunities, moving ahead of Mike Bushell, Matt Simpson, Ollie Jackson, Carl Boardley, Ollie Pidgley and Jason Plato in the opening ten laps before setting a series of laps quicker than race leader Tom Chilton, including a 56.260-second effort on lap 16 that would stand as the fourth fastest lap of the entire race and the second fastest of all by a Front Wheel Drive car.

“If only race three was race one then our weekend would have been a lot different,” concluded Thompson, who passed Brett Smith, Tom Oliphant, James Cole and Senna Proctor in the second half of the race and was closing on Glynn Geddie for 18th place when his rear tyres began to go off. “The car was really good and I could just attack with confidence in the grip levels although I think I used the rear tyres a bit too much as in the last couple of laps they started to go off and Jason was able to pass me back right at the end.”

Thompson eventually took the chequered flag in 20th place and remains in 27th position in the overall BTCC Championship points table, 18th in the BTCC Independents standings but slipped to 10th in the Jack Sears Trophy table with six races of the 2018 remaining starting in three weeks’ time at the ultra-fast Silverstone National circuit in Northamptonshire.

RAIN-HIT KNOCKHILL PROVIDES ENJOYABLE NEW CHALLENGE  FOR BTCC ROOKIE PIDGLEY

RAIN-HIT KNOCKHILL PROVIDES ENJOYABLE NEW CHALLENGE FOR BTCC ROOKIE PIDGLEY

  • Volkswagen racer Ollie Pidgley enjoys second BTCC outing of year
  • Rain-swept Knockhill provides intriguing challenge for series rookie
  • Pidgley improves on previous best with P21 result in very wet Rd23
  • Wiltshire ‘birthday boy’ relishing next rounds at Silverstone National

 

Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship rookie Ollie Pidgley made another step forward in the UK’s premier motor racing category at a rain-swept Knockhill in Scotland over the weekend, 25th/26th August, where the Volkswagen CC racer encountered another series of fresh challenges.

 

Making good progress through the dry free practice sessions on Saturday, where he had to pretty much learn the Fife circuit from scratch having only competed there once previously in a Formula 4 single-seater back in 2015, the Downton driver headed into raceday in confident mood.

 

Heavy and persistent rain on Sunday, though, delivered a fresh test for Pidgley who celebrated his 21st birthday over the weekend. With a highlight finish of 21st place in round 23, the Trade Price Cars with Team Brisky Racing driver hoped for more in round 24 later in the day, especially starting the race just outside the top 20, but unfortunate contact on lap two ended those aims.

 

“I’m not sure what happened entirely”, explained Pidgley after race three, “[Matt] Simpson went sideways at the hairpin and so, in avoidance, I went to the outside but Bobby [Thompson] outbraked himself and made contact with my wheel, which was on full lock, so it broke the tow link.

 

“It’s quite frustrating it happened in that race as it was the highest I’ve started in touring cars, and other than [Jason] Plato in his rear-wheel drive getting past me, I managed to stay with the others on the first couple of laps and things were going well. It’s a shame, but there are lots of positives.”

 

Making significant gains during the two free practice sessions on Saturday, finding a full 1.1 seconds between the two runs, in qualifying Pidgley again made steps forward and ended up with the 30th fastest time – less than a couple of seconds way from pole position.

 

Due to the arrival of a significant amount of rain on Sunday, the challenge for Pidgley was ratcheted up a notch with no prior experience of those conditions at Knockhill in his BTCC car. At the start of race one, though, he made no mistakes and moved ahead of Carl Boardley’s sister Volkswagen CC into 29th place at the end of lap three when Boardley went wide and off at the hairpin.

 

Taking another position soon after when Daniel Lloyd careered off the circuit, Pidgley then moved into 27th place on lap 11 when Honda racers Matt Neal and Matt Simpson tangled. Although slipping back behind the recovering Lloyd early in the second half of the race, contact between podium contenders Stephen Jelley and Colin Turkington elevated Pidgley back into 27th before the finish.

 

As the drivers and teams prepared for race two, the weather had only worsened with treacherous conditions awaiting the start of round 23. Even with the extremely limited visibility in the pack at the rear of the field, though, Pidgley made some impressive gains in the red-flag shortened encounter.

 

Although dropped back to 30th place from 27th at the start, following an early Safety Car period between laps two and seven the Volkswagen CC racer began to make progress. As several rivals came to grief in the conditions, Pidgley acclimatised impressively and he steadily moved through into 24th position before the Safety Car made its second appearance on lap 13.

 

Following the re-start on lap 19, the BTCC rookie was nudged back to 25th by Simpson but Pidgley did move back up into 24th on lap 20 before the red flags were shown, and a race result declared, after a collision with the barriers for Sam Smelt. When the top two finishers were then excluded due to technical infringements, Pidgley moved up into a best yet 21st spot.

 

Even though rain ceased later in the afternoon, the third and final contest still took place on a wet track and from 21st on the grid – surrounded by a number of very experienced touring car drivers who had encountered misfortune in the previous encounter – Pidgley put together a sensible start.

 

Ending the opening lap in 25th position but well in touch with the pack ahead, at the end of the second tour he was forced to pit with the broken tow link after contact at the hairpin. Thanks to great work from the Trade Price Cars with Team Brisky Racing pit crew, Pidgley was able to rejoin the race and ended 26th of the cars still running, albeit eight laps down, to gain vital extra experience.

 

“I’ve only ever been to Knockhill once before, and that was in F4, so everything was pretty new to be honest”, said the Old English Properties and MSP Capital supported racer, “On Saturday we kept making progress, getting used to the car and the track and only using old tyres. All of the targets we set ourselves we kept hitting, so it was a really productive day.

 

“The rain on Sunday, though, made everything more of a challenge – I’ve never seen anything like those conditions to be fair, the wipers on a touring car aren’t the best and the water doesn’t run off the plastic windscreens like it does on a regular road car. It’s the same for everyone, obviously, but visibility was pretty tough.”

 

Next up for Pidgley and Trade Price Cars with Team Brisky Racing will be penultimate race meeting of the 2018 BTCC season over the weekend 15th/16th September, at Silverstone National Circuit in Northamptonshire.

 

“Silverstone is one of the tracks I’ve done most at before, in Clios and MINI Challenge, so I’m really looking forward to being there in a touring car”, commented Pidgley, “I’m confident it’ll be a good weekend and if it’s dry I think we have a great chance to make some more steps forward, plus it should be a good track for our Volkswagen.”

Tough start to Thompson’s maiden Highland fling!

Tough start to Thompson’s maiden Highland fling!

Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship rookie Bobby Thompson will start tomorrow’s trio of British Touring Car Championship races at the spectacular Knockhill circuit in Fife from 31stand last position after an oil leak aboard the #19 Team HARD with Trade Price Cars VW CC brought his timed qualifying session to a premature end after less than half a lap.

Thompson’s oily and somewhat spectacular demise at the very start of Saturday’s usually frantic 30-minute qualifying period was the final act of a day that began promisingly but turned sour when the 22 year-old Hornchurch based driver, by his own admission, ‘overcooked things’ at Duffus Dip while sitting tenth fastest during the opening free practice session of the weekend.

“It is hard to know where to start after a day like this,” shrugged a philosophical Thompson as he watched the remainder of qualifying from the pit wall that overlooks the rolling 1.27-mile Scottish venue. “Obviously this is my first time here and I just overcooked it slightly on my seventh flying lap going through turn one and spun. The car felt so good and I was just attacking a bit too much a bit too soon. The problem was that I hit a ditch, which ripped the front splitter off and caused a bit of damage which meant I missed the whole of second practice.”

Following his superb showing at Rockingham two weeks ago and another strong performance from his Team HARD teammate Mike Bushell in practice, there was an optimistic mood in the #19 camp heading in to qualifying, although within 30-seconds of the green flag going out to signal the start of qualifying, hope had turned to despair.

“The team signalled for me to go out and do our usual one lap and then pit to cross over the tyres and as I came out of the second corner I said to my engineer that the rear end felt a bit loose but apart from that everything seemed fine until I got to Clark’s corner and smoke started appearing in the cockpit. I pulled off as soon as I could and then I realised that the rear end felt loose because I had oil over my tyres.”

With a liberal soaking of oil covering half the lap the session was red flagged and the reigning VW Cup Series Champion was left contemplating a race day that was challenging enough to begin with on a track that traditionally doesn’t suit the VW CC but is now as mountainous as the spectacular countryside that surrounds Knockhill.

“Looking at the positives, firstly the car felt good this morning, secondly Mike [Bushell] has shown we have a decent package, thirdly I’m now in great shape to move into the top three in the Dunlop Forever Forward standings and lastly, the ITV4 viewers should get to see plenty of overtaking as I’m carrying their on-board cameras for the races. And it is supposed to rain as well and I love driving in the rain!”

If you aren’t making the journey to Knockhill for race day, here are the start times for all three BTCC races, which as always, will be live and uninterrupted on ITV4.

Sunday August 26th

11:50am – BTCC Race 1 (Live on ITV4)
13:05 – 13:35pm – Pit lane Walkabout/Drivers Autograph Session
14:25pm – BTCC Race 2 (Live on ITV4)
17:20pm – BTCC Race 3 (Live on ITV4)

Knockhill Preview – The Drivers Thoughts

Knockhill Preview – The Drivers Thoughts

Bobby Thompson

“I can’t believe that we have only got three race weekends to go and then my rookie season is over. I know that a lot can happen in nine races but after the last two rounds at Snetterton and Rockingham I wish we had another 30 races to go.

“I’m starting to sound a bit like a broken record but before Rockingham I said that the Diamond Double race at Snetterton was the most significant race of my career so far. Well I’ve got to say now that race three at Rockingham is the most significant race of my career so far and I have had so much support on social media after that drive. Who knows, maybe after this weekend I will have to change my mind again. I certainly hope so!!

“We have now had two meetings where the whole Team HARD package has been moving forward. A lot of people have made a reference to how Rockingham suited our ‘slippery’ VW’s and that Knockhill won’t suit the car as much as Silverstone and Brands Hatch at the end of the year but the way the team have been developing the cars I don’t think we will be at as much of a disadvantage in Scotland as people think.

“Obviously the circuit is new to me and is a very different style of track to anything else on the BTCC calendar but I genuinely think we can still contend for points here just because of the engineering changes the cars have undergone in the last six weeks or so. I’m not saying that we will be in the top four in qualifying like Mike was at Rockingham but if the weather is a bit mixed then anything is possible.

“I’ve been studying last years’ races at Knockhill and it is definitely a track where you have to be super aggressive on the kerbs and really committed around the whole lap. The BTCC is manic enough on a track twice as long and twice as wide so if you are in mid pack you won’t get a second to yourself and it will be non-stop action all the way. I don’t want to make any predictions apart from keeping it on the track and trying to qualifying in the top half of the field and then staying there in the races.”

 

Mike Bushell

Rockingham was a fantastic weekend for not only me but the team. Qualifying 4th and two 6th places is a great weekend for anyone in this super competitive championship! However, I was left a little disappointed with the race results as our qualifying and free Practice pace didn’t translate into race pace and longevity. And I’m hungry to fight for wins!

So, the build up to Knockhill has been very intense with lots of numbers and calculations on how we best improve the car for the future. Getting really involved in the engineering side has given me the opportunity to quantify my changes and adjustments. I love Knockhill. My first ever BTCC race was there in 2013 and I still hold it as one of my all time fondest memories.

I’ve since had pole positions and wins in the U.K. Renault Clio Cup there and I am looking forward to the return north of the border!

 

Ollie Pidgley

Firstly, Rockingham was completely surreal. I had no idea that BTCC was even possible this year, I want to thank everyone at Team HARD for giving me this very special opportunity to show myself on such a national stage.

It was altogether a great weekend with pace improvements each time out and finishing positions much higher that I could have imagined.

I have raced at Knockhill once before, it was in MSA Formula (now British F4). I achieved my highest results of 10th in my part year in that series at Knockhill so that’s encouraging! I remember how much I loved driving the track so I’m looking forward to having the chance to drive it again. More finishes and more pace that’s all I want from the weekend!

Slim Pickings For Epps From ‘Bogey Circuit’ Knockhill

Slim Pickings For Epps From ‘Bogey Circuit’ Knockhill

Mike Epps endured a meeting to forget during the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship’s annual trip north of the border this past weekend (12/13 August) as he battled to a best finish of seventeenth during Rounds 19, 20 and 21 at Knockhill.

With the long wheelbase of his AutoAid/RCIB Insurance Racing Volkswagen CC not being suited to the technical, undulating nature of the Scottish circuit, Epps and the Team HARD squad were anticipating an uphill struggle heading into the seventh meeting of the season.

That would turn out to be the case throughout the weekend, with changing weather conditions and an alternator problem in free practice two hampering Epps’ preparations ahead of qualifying on Saturday, which itself would turn into a lottery as the circuit dried after earlier rainfall.

Epps would give his all to post a strong time as the conditions improved in the closing minutes of the session, however a combination of a brake issue and other drivers blocking him on his decisive laps would leave him a truly unrepresentative 28th on the final timesheets.

The issues would leave the Anytime Fitness and Simply Race supported racer on the backfoot for Sunday’s races, with the opening encounter setting the tone for the day ahead as Epps struggled to make progress in the midfield and took the finish in P24.

The second race of the day would mark Epps’ 50th start in the BTCC, however there wouldn’t be much to celebrate for the 25 year old though as after gaining a number of positions when others hit trouble, he was unable to challenge for the points on his way to seventeenth.

That result would end up being his best result of the day however, as after initially rising to a high of fourteenth in the opening laps of race three, Epps would unfortunately fall back through the order as the race progressed to cap off a disastrous visit to Scotland in P23.

The final three meetings of the season take place at circuits much more suited to the Volkswagen CC however, meaning the Hemel Hempstead racer heads into them in much more positive spirits, starting with next weekend’s visit to Rockingham in Corby (26/27 August).

Mike Epps: “We knew this would be a bogey circuit for us, but I don’t think any of us anticipated to struggle quite this much. It was qualifying that really hit us, as it’s so difficult to get anything positive from the races when you start back in 28th.

“All of my finishes were higher than that, so we were able to make some progress with a best of 17th in race two, but the car just wasn’t strong enough in the key areas compared to the others for us to be able to go on the offensive, especially when some were able to just pull away on the straights.

“It’s a tough circuit out of the way though and the next three tracks are apparently much better for the car, so we’re hoping for a more positive end to the season with some consistent points finishes and maybe more in the final rounds. Let’s see what happens.”